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Saturday: August 1, 2009

A Stereotypical Canadian in Rossini

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:45 PM GMT-0500

Yesterday I saw for the first time Rossini’s first opera, the one-act farce La Cambiale di Matrimonio (The Bill of Marriage). It is set in England, and the most amusing character is the Canadian Slook, who has crossed the Atlantic to pick up his mail-order bride. The DVD version I saw, directed by Michael Hampe and conducted by Gianluigi Gelmetti, puts Slook (Alberto Rinaldi) in a delightfully primitive Canadian costume. He arrives on a cold day dressed in furs and carrying a gun in one hand and a pair of peacepipes in the other:

Once inside he takes off his fur coat and hat to reveal a buckskin jacket with fringes, plaid shirt, and something that looks like a more elaborate version of a bolo tie:

How much of the costume is implied in Rossini’s score (1810) and how much is the director’s idea (1989) I do not know. I can heartily recommend the recording, which is well-sung, well-acted, and pleasingly free of Eurotrash pretensions. It is included in a very reasonably-priced box set of four early one-act operas. I bought it for $20.99 a few days ago, though the current low price on Amazon Marketplace is $24.25 new. Not bad for four delightful works in one package. On the other hand, the picture of the composer on the box may deter some buyers.

Monday: January 7, 2008

Song That Always Makes Me Think of Bill Clinton — and now Mike Huckabee, Too

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:46 AM GMT-0500

The Hoosier Hotshots: “Them Hillbillies Are Mountain Williams Now”. Speaking of which, shouldn’t that be “Is Mountain Williams”? Or is that error (or colloquialism) a step beyond the first, and a step further than the Hotshots cared to go?

Wednesday: October 11, 2006

Something Wrong with the Algorithm?

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:13 PM GMT-0500

When I searched for ‘Torless’ on Overstock.com just now, I got two hits: the Criterion DVD of Volker Schlöndorff’s Young Törless, and the Penguin translation of the Musil novel on which it was based. When I clicked on the latter, I was given a list in the right margin headed “Customers who liked this also liked:”. So what did they like?

  1. One jazz/blues album: The Bosses (Big Joe Turner and Count Basie).
  2. Three French movies from the last decade: Un Air de Famille, The Taste of Others, and With a Friend Like Harry.
  3. Two Hank Williams III albums: Straight to Hell and Risin’ Outlaw.

A rather heterogeneous list, you may think. How many people are interested in Hank Williams III and contemporary French cinema? Actually, I am. If one more French movie (The Closet) were added, the list would be exactly what I ordered from Overstock a week or so ago, my first order from them in the last year. Either Overstock is trying to fool me into thinking that Young Törless is exactly the book I want, or their algorithm is faulty. Most likely the latter: it looks as if I’m the only visitor to their website who has so much glanced at the Törless book lately, so they were forced to give me back my own preferences as the only ones on file. Then again, when I went back to the same page for another look, I got five more recommendations, none of them even remotely enticing. Judging from the titles (G-Spot, Caramel Flava, Candy Licker, Taming the Beast, and Discipline) and the covers (look ’em up yourself), the five paperbacks they were pimping are all soft porn or worse. Perhaps some day Overstock (and Amazon) can come up with some genuinely useful recommendations, omitting both the titles I’ve already paid good money for and the titles that I wouldn’t want to own even if they were free.

P.S. It gets worse: I clicked on Taming the Beast, which was even fouler than I expected, and was recommended Great Women of the Old West, a how-to book on consensual sadomachism, and a 32-page illustrated biography of Gerald Ford aimed at 3rd- and 4th-graders.

Monday: January 16, 2006

Catching Up On My Listening

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:18 PM GMT-0500

With the help of the U.N.C. library and a helpful student, I’ve been catching up on (a) music I haven’t listened to in years decades, and (b) music I’ve never gotten around to checking out. Brief verdicts so far:

Category A:

  • The Beatles: Since selling off the records many years ago I hadn’t missed much. The early, unpretentious stuff is not bad, but what was all the fuss about? Their best stuff seems roughly as good as Buck Owens, and he’s a lot more consistently good.
  • John Lennon: Ditto, only more so. Ho hum.
  • Yoko Ono: Not as bad as I had remembered, which isn’t saying much. To put it another way, I probably have worse things on my iTunes, though I can’t think what. On the other hand, when one of her tunes comes up in shuffle play, I don’t immediately recognize it as trash: it’s more a gradual dawning of comprehension that this (oh no!) must be Yoko.

Category B:

  • The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds. Everyone says this is such a great album, and I rather like the relatively few BB tunes that I couldn’t avoid hearing over the years, but this album? A total bore.
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Wow! Why hadn’t I gotten around to checking her out (in more ways than one) before? I’m just annoyed that U.N.C. only gave me disc 1 of Ella Fitzgerald sings the Cole Porter Songbook, so I have to go back and get disc 2 — assuming they even have it.
  • Frank Sinatra: I thought I hadn’t really heard anything by him except “New York, New York”, which is annoying and annoyingly ubiquitous, but one tune on Frank Sinatra Sings the Select Sammy Cahn was totally familiar: the theme for Married with Children. Somehow I hadn’t connected that performance with anyone famous or talented. Despite my aversion to anything that could conceivably be classified as ‘Easy Listening’, I’m finding all three Sinatra albums (the other two are Songs for Young Lovers and Swing Easy, combined on one CD) worth hearing and even rehearing. Am I turning into an old fart, or just showing my good taste?

Having now gone through Terry Teachout’s recommendations in his four-part article “The Great American Songbook” (Commentary, February-May 2002), I was disappointed to find that U.N.C. has no only four or five of the fifty albums named, and only one or two can be checked out. Oh well, I guess I need to get a full-time job and buy them myself.